Google, Takedown Requests & The Unknown

    August 30, 2012
    Chris Crum
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As you may know, Google is now using the amount of takedown requests it receives for a site as a ranking signal. Google publicly announced this change earlier this month, and it’s been something of a controversial topic within the webmaster community.

Interestingly, according to Google’s Transparency Report, the number of takedown requests has actually decreased since the announcement, but the overall trend shows a very significant rise in requests over the past year. There are a lot of concerns about the vagueness of how Google uses this data, and potential abuse of the signal by competitors. More on all of that here.

SEOBook‘s Aaron Wall shared some additional thoughts about the whole thing with us. He thinks the change may be good for Google, but is less certain how good it is for the rest of the web.

The unknowns

“I don’t think the feature hurts Google at all,” he tells WebProNews. “In fact I think it creates a further competitive advantage for them.”

“It is the rest of the web that the feature is not so good for,” he adds. “The limitations are not known publicly, the level of pain caused is not known publicly, the recovery process is not known publicly, how and where and why they may change limits or penalties associated with it going forward is also unknown, etc.”

“It is a way to point at basically anything with any sort of remix of culture and say, ‘well it is spam because this over here,'” Wall says.

Google, as a company, is changing

“Now to be fair, I think historically Google has been far fairer than most in their position would be,” he adds. “However as time passes, they become larger, they get more employees & they need to keep growing revenues they become more of a typical company (and that means past exceptionalism might be less exceptional in years to come).”

“As an example of something they wouldn’t have done 10 years ago, today Google’s homepage has a large graphic ad on it for their tablet,” he points out.

We actually talked about this another piece. It certainly is a pretty interesting turnaround from where the company once was. You have to wonder how much ore of this kind of thing Google will do. User response hasn’t been incredibly positive. Here are some examples of some fo the comments we received about the ad:

“Definitely the most bold ad to be shown on the homepage ever. I don’t mind a text link, but an animated image? It is 179Kb as well, that is not a tiny file.”

“How do I get rid of this annoyance?!!!! I don’t want another annoying push to buy things I couldn’t care less about.”

“This is a sad day!!”

“Really don’t like it – very annoyed with google.”

I’m sure there are plenty who are not really bothered by the ad. Frankly, it doesn’t really bother me at all. I just find it noteworthy that Google would do this now after its long history of homepage simplicity.

What About User-Generated Content Sites?

Wall shares a quote from a post Google made on its AdSense blog this week:

“It’s against our policies to show ads on the same page as links to other sites that are hosting copyrighted materials without authorization. Keep in mind that these sites come in various forms such as forums, blogs or community websites.”

“Notice that YouTube goes unmentioned in the above tip,” Wall says. “Yet if you wanted to list sites that have been on the receiving end of a billion Dollar lawsuit for copyright infringement YouTube would be right up top. That was sort of the point I was trying to make…that new sites that behave like some of Google’s vertical properties do would have a strong risk of being labeled as spam before they could reach a critical mass.”

Google has acknowledged that YouTube (and Blogger) aren’t counted among takedown requests in its transparency report, as they have different paths for reporting, but Wall makes an interesting point about other user-generated content sites trying to get off the ground.

The signal is only one of over 200, but for a site that operates in a similar fashion to YouTube, it could be a strong signal, depending on how users use it, even if the site is diligent about responding to requests of its own.

We’ve reached out to Google for comment on this, and will update if we receive one.

Update: Talking with Google, the company, while acknowledging that no algorithm is perfect, indicates that it does not feel like the signal will have much of an impact on user-generated content sites, because of the way the signal has been designed. It’s likely that the types of sites seen at the top of the list of the Transparecy Report will be affected most. The company also explains that the bar is pretty high for abuse, given the legal ramifications of submitting false reports, which it says is punishable by penalty of perjury. The signal has also apparently been designed to prevent abuse.

Google also reminds us that it is only one of over 200 signals, and that it i not using the signal to remove sites from listings.

  • http://www.LAokay.com Steve G

    This is more of the same Google B.S. they spit at us all. “Do as we say, not as we do.” Google needs to play by the same rules they impose on us all or basically Google is turning into a Dictatorship of an index. See, they penalized their chrome site because hey hired an outside SEO company that violated Google’s webmaster policies, but if Google did this in house they wouldn’t have penalized it one single bit. It’s just not fair. This is more of the 1%/99% fight that we have in this world. Where the 1% don’t have to play by the rules they make for the 99% to follow. If you look at Google’s history of getting in trouble with the law, you’ll see their arrogance and how they want to write the rules but make exceptions where they don’t have to play by them.

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  • Alan Robertson

    If this logic was applied twenty years ago before mainstream internet use then companies would be applying to the Yellow Pages asking them to remove offending companies. I’m sure the resuting “not our responsibility” letter would be quite justifiable. Afterall, surely they should be going after the businesses directly or those that host them? I can’t see how this is Google’s responsibility? More to the point is there not one single person querying the validity of these claims? It is entirely possible for many people to ask for something to be removed without a legitimate reason – take your pick from religion, abortion and politics! It is a form of censorship and entirely at the discretion of Google and the number of complainants – this is wrong. There should be no censorshp from Google and webhosting companies brought to the focus. Afterall would you go after the newsagent selling the newspapers or the newspaper itself that printed the offending article?